This paper reflects on the highly contested Israeli restrictions on the importation of civilian goods into the Gaza Strip, with reference to a wide range of principled questions within military ethics regarding sieges, sanctions and blockades. Beginning with Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and culminating in its recent easing of sanctions, the paper attempts to bring out the central issues of principle embedded in the political polemic: unilaterally terminated occupation; the responsibilities of a former, though recent, occupier; the semantic distinction between siege and sanction and their respective ramifications; harm to civilians; necessity and proportionality. Overall, it argues in the specific case that Israel’s restrictions on Gaza were not indefensible from the start as a first attempt to halt terrorism while avoiding full-scale conflict. In view of their ineffectiveness in achieving these goals, however, the harm they inflicted on civilians increasingly proved unnecessary and therefore excessive. There could then be no justification for continuing to restrict the flow of civilian goods into Gaza, as Israel itself eventually recognized. Nonetheless, Israel retains the right to search and regulate the passage of all relief supplies into Gaza, whether by land or by sea, as well as to secure its own borders for the safety of its citizens.
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